LONDON: For the first time in his distinguished decade with Chelsea, Petr Cech is under pressure. Thibaut Courtois’s long-inevitable return from three years on loan at Atletico de Madrid has signaled an imminent changing of the guard between the posts at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea signed Courtois, still only 22, from Belgium’s Genk in 2011 but, until this past season’s Champions League semi-finals, he had never played even once at Stamford Bridge. The boos and jeers to which he was subjected that night in April – when Atletico won 3:1 – must have been music to his years: the clamour indicated that Blues’ fans had acknowledged his talent.
Courtois was not only a Champions League runner-up but Spanish Liga champons with Atletico. Then he enjoyed an excellent month in Brazil at a World Cup full of outstanding goalkeepers as Belgium reached the quarter-finals before losing narrowly to Argentina.
Manager Jose Mourinho wants to keep both Courtois and Cech at Stamford Bridge but Courtois needs to ‘learn’ the English game which, as David De Gea has shown at Manchester United, is no simple task. The only way he can progress is by playing regularly in the Premier League.
This suggests that Cech is looking at ‘relegation’ to the domestic and European club games after 10 years in which he has been unchallenged first choice, barring injury, for every match Chelsea have played. That has added up to 326 appearances in the Premier League and 478 in all competitions.
Cech’s situation has not gone unnoticed. He has received inquiries from Monaco and, since failing to prise Hugo LLoris out of Tottenham, from French champions Paris Saint-Germain. At 32 he could still consider himself at the peak of his career for a goalkeeper.
Mourinho hopes to keep Cech at Stamford Bridge, for at least another season, by awarding him the status of club vice-captain previously held by Australian and America-bound Frank Lampard.
Cech’s agent has already said his client remains happy in London but is “keeping his options open.” However the likelihood is that he will stay for the time being since, first, he has to prove his fitness after dislocating a shoulder against Atletico in the Champions League.
The Czech was back for the start of pre-season training and headed to Austria with his non-World Cup team-mates last week. His contract does not expire until 2016 so Mourinho would be perfectly within his rights to insist on keeping Cech around . . . as both a challenge and a threat to Courtois.
Mourinho is keeping both of them guessing. He has not offered either man a clue as to who may be in goal for the Premier opener against promoted Burnley.